Monday, July 9, 2018

How to Plan Space for Electrical & Avoid Unsightly Mistakes

Planning ample room for light switches and outlets (and their covers) is super important during any DIY home improvement projects.

It's one of the top things that gets overlooked during the planning stages. Which is terribly unfortunate because it can be hard to fix once installation of everything else is complete.

Below are some of the most common home improvement projects in which too little space is created for electrical devices.

Follow our advice & take time to plan room for electrical ahead of time to avoid unsightly mistakes.

Wall Tile & Trim

Adding trim to a bedroom wall or installing tile on your bathroom walls can really dress up your living space.

Before you even begin, be sure to look around the room and take note of where all the light switches and outlets are located. Then, plan the height of your tile accordingly.

And don't forget to factor in trim pieces.

The bullnose trim on this backsplash tile is too large based on how close it is to the electrical devices. The homeowner wasn't able to get the cover plate back on and had to order a specialty cover plate to complete his wet bar project.

In this bathroom, the tile runs right into the light switches. Cutting out portions of the tile was the solution, but it doesn't look good. The trim simply should have been installed higher or lower to clear the cover plate.

Another poorly planned project was completed by extending the tile up and around the switch and faceplate.

Here, the wall trim got very close to the outlet. The standard cover fit, but had it not, this shifted outlet cover is perfect for tight spaces.

Board and Batten / Wainscoting

I am obsessed with wainscot walls. So much so that within the last 2 years I've added either wainscot or board and batten to 4 different rooms in my house.

Here's an example of a wainscot wall I saw recently that is very well planned out. You can see that none of the grid beams intersect with switches or sockets.

Even though I know to plan enough room for the wall plates to go back up, I had some mis-fortune when installing my first board and batten wall.

The two orange arrows indicate where the trim got in the way. It covered the top of my dimmer switch and the side of my outlet.

In the original design of our accent wall, the beams cleared the electrical box (as I'd planned when determining the beam spacing).

But I didn't like the look of the thick batten beams we purchased after we put them up.

To fix it, we added decorative trim inside each rectangle. Once the decorative part was up, there wasn't room for the standard outlet cover anymore, and I had to get this narrow one.

For the dimmer switch, we were able to notch the trim to fit over the standard size cover. It's not nailed into place so we can still access the switch if we need to. Another option is this trimmed rocker plate.

By the way, I highly recommend buying metal switch plates and painting them to match your wainscot. It really makes quite a difference not having the stark white cover creating an eye sore on such a beautiful statement wall.

I saw this in a model home recently:

Such a shame that the placement of this outlet ruined the look of an otherwise nicely upgraded room. Especially since it could have been avoided if someone had planned the spacing of the beams to avoid running right into this receptacle.

Here's another example:

I really recommend adjusting the spacing of your batten or wainscot trim so that it avoids ALL electrical devices. Your project will look much better in the end if you do!

My sister-in-law did a great job avoiding this outlet:

She built this entire batten wall by herself! Very impressed! There's no cover there yet - she still needs to put a single spacer behind the receptacle to pull it forward and then cover it with an oversized socket cover.

New Wall Surface

If you're putting up a mirror wall or adding paneling, be sure you cut a big enough opening to access any electrical devices.

There are 3 reasons you want tile, mirrors, beadboard, wainscot and paneling to completely clear the electrical:

  1. to meet safety code / prevent a fire
  2. to have the ability to pull devices up to new surface so they're not sunken in the switch plate
  3. to have access to switches and outlets to replace if any break or if you want a different style or finish down the road

This homeowner installed a mirror over their dimmer switches.

As a result, the switches can't be pulled up to the final surface of the mirror. The cover plate will rest on top of the mirror and the switches will be set back quite a bit.

Don't Forget the Cover Plate Dimensions
Always keep in mind that electrical device covers extend beyond the electrical box. Leave ample room around electrical boxes for the covers to fit back on.

Here, an outlet in a kitchen island is put in the center of the cabinet. A good way to go to ensure you don't run into any problems.

For covers sitting on cabinets, consider painting them to match, or selecting a quality metal finish that complements your color scheme.

If you want to add trim or granite and find that you don't have room for the outlet and cover, keep in mind you can always rotate the electrical box so that your devices sit sideways.

If you end up cutting too large a hole for the electrical box and a standard cover doesn't hide everything, buy oversized switch covers.

If you've already created a problem and need a solution:

Get instructions for shifting your electrical devices and measuring for a short or narrow switch plate.

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